Love In A Time Of HIV
6/25/2012 3:30:00 PM
By Alex Garner
When it comes to being HIV-positive, one of the chief concerns is finding someone to date. Having a companion for emotional support, intimacy or just sexual pleasure, is a fundamental part of the human experience. Poz men now have various choices when it comes to finding someone to spend time with. But are some methods better than others? Does HIV make the task of dating all the more difficult or is the dating terrain universally challenging, regardless of HIV status?
Online dating or hook-up sites are increasingly popular these days. There is a wide range of sites and mobile apps that allow men to meet up for a date or a sexual liaison. One can find bears, twinks, daddys, leather men, or jocks, to name a few. Practically every type of man is at your fingertips. There are a number of HIV specific sites, like Poz.com, that allow men to meet other men with the same HIV status and a shared experience.
HIV specific sites have the distinct advantage of skipping that tricky disclosure conversation. I think one of the greatest sources of anxiety for many poz men is the predicament of disclosure. When you meet someone for the first time, figuring out when to tell them about your HIV status always becomes a consideration. It’s often not what you want to lead with. That’s not because it’s something to be ashamed of but because it can sometimes hijack the conversation.
When speaking with a new friend, there are times when I am happy to continue talking about the upcoming elections, or an exhibit at the Getty or the latest episode of True Blood. I don’t want the conversation to veer into yet another sero-conversion story or a seminar on HIV 101. That doesn’t always happen. Some men take the HIV news in stride it’s as incidental as your alma mater or place of birth. There are also those happy coincidences when you meet someone who is also poz and you tell them you have HIV and they say, “me too, “ and you smile and go back to talking about vampires and werewolves.
An HIV-specific website is like that moment of relief when you find out the hot guy you are talking to is also poz. There is no explanation needed and you both can proceed in a more comfortable fashion. Poz sites cut through all the anxiety of disclosure but you are still left with various men will all sorts of baggage and issues that have nothing to do with HIV. So the site doesn’t make the dating part easier, it just streamlines the selection process.
But I wonder have we lost something by relying too much on websites for meeting people? There’s something to be said for face-to-face interaction. While the exchange is fraught with risk and awkwardness, it provides a compelling dynamic that can’t be found on the internet. Maybe in the quest for safety and comfort we are depriving ourselves of exciting experiences.
And it’s not just that some of these exchanges can be emotionally thrilling, they are also healthy. They force us to come out of our comfort zone and dabble in the messiness of human interaction. We’ve also learned that while coming out is an ongoing process, it usually gets easier over time.
I’ve been positive my entire adult life so I’ve grown accustomed to being very out about my HIV status. I often assume most people know already and work from the belief. I do the same thing about being gay. My gayness seems so obvious to me and sometimes it feels like my HIV is just as obvious. That isn’t the case, of course, but it allows me to approach it from an empowered place and that is what I mean when I say it can be a healthy experience. That’s not to say it will be a painless experience, but it will be healthy.
Disclosure is an acquired skill and I am sure few have mastered it. I know I haven’t. There are days when I’d rather opt for an HIV T-shirt. (There are plenty of websites that sell them) But in the end, disclosing during the first meeting or on the third date will always present us will challenges and opportunities. If the goal is to be empowered around HIV, then we must flex our disclosure muscle. The more comfortable we are with telling people about our HIV, the more incidental it will become. Like our sexuality or gender expression, our HIV status informs or worldview and shapes our experience but it’s not the only part of us. If we are confident and unashamed of the various aspects of ourselves, we can lose the anxiety and discomfort and people can interact with our complete multidimensional selves.
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